Page last updated at 04:55 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

India Maoist violence 'grave concern', says minister

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
There has been a surge in Maoist violence in recent months

Maoist violence in India remains a cause for "grave concern", with rising casualties on all sides, the country's home minister has said.

P Chidambaram told reporters that nearly 600 civilians had been killed in Maoist violence last year.

This was double the number of civilians killed in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and India's restive north-eastern states, he said.

The rebels are fighting for communist rule in many Indian states.

More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' 20-year fight.

'Red corridor'

Mr Chidambaram has in the past said the rebels must "abjure violence" before the government can initiate talks with them.

One rebel leader, Kishenji, has said the Maoists are willing to talk to the government if it puts off a planned offensive.

The rebels have a presence in more than 223 of India's 600-odd districts across 20 states, according to the government.

"The authorities in Maoist-affected states have lived in a state of denial for too long," Mr Chidambaram said.

"I believe that it is necessary that the authority of the civilian government is established in these districts where in large tracts of land, the authority is not with the civilian government."

Mr Chidambaram said 317 members of the security forces and 217 rebels died in Maoist-related violence in 2009.

"The increase in the number of incidents and casualties is not surprising because, after a review of the policy, the state governments decided to deploy a larger number of security personnel and engage the Maoists in the districts dominated by them with a view to re-establishing the authority of the government," Mr Chidambaram said.

"I expect the trend to continue in 2010."

There has been a surge in Maoist violence in India in recent months - the rebels have kidnapped and killed policemen, held up an express train, attacked police stations and blown up railway lines and communication links in affected states.

The Maoist insurgency started in 1967 and has spread to cover a third of India's districts, forming a so-called "red corridor" in mainly central areas.

The insurgents wield influence in parts of the country which are mostly poor and dominated by tribes people.

They are also areas widely seen as being rich in mineral wealth which the Maoists say is being handed over to firms while the poor remain deprived.

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